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Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, VermontLocal 22 & Local 44/YouTube screenshot

BURLINGTON, Vermont (LifeSiteNews) – Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington announced Monday that he dismissed a pastor from his parish in Springfield, Vermont for resisting a mask mandate and COVID-19 testing requirements for unvaccinated priests.

In a letter to parishioners on Tuesday, Coyne said that he removed Father Peter Williams of Holy Family Parish due to “serious disobedience and disrespect shown to the office of the bishop.”

Coyne had declared in a September directive that priests who do not get COVID-19 injections must wear a mask during all celebrations of the Sacraments and any interactions with individuals in the course of pastoral ministry. Un-jabbed clergy must also be tested for COVID every other week, he ordered.

Father Williams, the pastor of Holy Family Parish for almost two decades, refused to comply with the diocese’s mandates as a matter of conscience. In a video earlier this year, the priest, who has not taken the shots, said that he objected to the bishop “directing matters of my health.”

After informing Coyne last year about his decision not to follow the mask and testing requirements, the bishop gave him two weeks to submit or face suspension and asked him to resign from his parish. He even suggested that the priest could be excommunicated.

But Father Williams has said that he has hired a canon lawyer and intends to remain at Holy Family Parish unless the diocese ousts him through canonical proceedings. Coyne told Catholic News Agency on Wednesday that he will not “escalate the situation” if Fr. Williams declines to leave.

Speaking with LifeSiteNews in January, the priest explained that he refused COVID vaccination because of the dictates of his conscience and his abhorrence of abortion. At some point of development, all COVID-19 shots available in the U.S. relied on cell lines derived from aborted babies, who were most likely still alive when their tissue was harvested.

“So, making that conscious decision was not difficult,” he told LifeSite.

Father Williams added that he took a stand against his diocese’s coronavirus policies for his unvaccinated parishioners. After church closures ended, he said, “all of a sudden the vaccination becomes the issue. And I’m looking and saying, well, the bishop could easily say that if you’re not vaccinated, you can’t go to church.”

While purporting to let clergy choose whether to get jabbed, Bishop Coyne’s order effectively served as unfair punishment for unvaccinated pastors, Father Williams said. “The way the letter read in my mind was, you get vaccinated or you get punished.”

The policy remains unchanged despite months of near-universal recognition that the COVID jabs do not halt transmission of the virus. Studies have also discredited the effectiveness of mask mandates at reducing viral spread.

Bishop Coyne said Tuesday that he has invited Father Williams to his residence in St. Joseph Cathedral Parish in Burlington “to hopefully change the bad opinion he has of me as his bishop.” Father Henry Furman of St. Michael Parish in Brattleboro has been named administrator of Holy Family Parish in the meantime, he added.

Coyne, appointed by Pope Francis in 2015, has a record of dissidence on fundamental Catholic teaching regarding sexuality and the family.

In an interview days after his installation, he described the gender confusion of so-called “transgender” people as “biological” and “who they are.” “So there’s no fault to be made, actually,” he said. Coyne further suggested that a homosexual may not be “a bad person or a bad Catholic” for being in a same-sex “marriage.”

He later accepted to speak at a pro-LGBT conference hosted by dissident Father James Martin SJ, who openly supports homosexual “marriage” and adoption and refers to God as female. Last year, Coyne signed a letter urging the U.S. bishops’ conference to shut down discussions about denying Holy Communion to lawmakers who facilitate abortion.

The Catholic Church has always condemned homosexuality as intrinsically evil and disordered. Homosexual acts, according to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “can in no case be approved of.”

The Magisterium of the Church also upholds the biological reality that there are only two genders and that God creates every human being either male or female. “By creating the human being man and woman, God gives personal dignity equally to the one and the other. Each of them, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity,” states the authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church.